Transhuman
  • Transhuman
  • Transhuman

Transhuman

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by Ben Bova
     
 

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Six-time Hugo Award-winner Ben Bova presents Transhuman.

Luke Abramson, a brilliant cellular biologist has one joy in life, his ten-year-old granddaughter, Angela. When he learns that Angela has an inoperable brain tumor and is given less than six months to live, Abramson wants to try an experimental new therapy that he believes will kill Angela's tumor.

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Overview

Six-time Hugo Award-winner Ben Bova presents Transhuman.

Luke Abramson, a brilliant cellular biologist has one joy in life, his ten-year-old granddaughter, Angela. When he learns that Angela has an inoperable brain tumor and is given less than six months to live, Abramson wants to try an experimental new therapy that he believes will kill Angela's tumor.

Her parents object and the hospital bureaucracy blocks the experimental procedure because it has not been approved by the FDA. Knowing that Angela will die before he can get approval, Abramson abducts Angela from the hospital. He plans to take her to a private research laboratory in Oregon.

Luke has turned his old SUV into a makeshift medical facility, treating Angela as best he can while they are on the road, desperately trying to keep his granddaughter alive long enough to give her the treatment he believes will save her life.

Abramson realizes that he's too old and decrepit to flee across the country with his sick granddaughter, so he injects himself with a genetic factor that has successfully reversed aging in animal tests.

As the chase weaves across the country from one research facility to another, Luke begins to grow physically younger, stronger. He looks and feels the way he did thirty or forty years ago.

But will he be able to save Angela?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/03/2014
Iconoclastic cellular biologist Luke Abramson is determined to save his dying eight-year-old granddaughter, Angela, with his cutting-edge treatment for cancer. Inconveniently, his process is not yet approved for use on humans, and he’s stymied by the objections of Angela’s parents. When Luke and Angela vanish, FBI special agent Jerry Hightower is assigned to recover them. While Luke’s allies are manipulating him to gain control of his revolutionary treatments and the profit they promise, his enemies will go to great lengths to keep the life-extension genie in its bottle. Luke has more immediate concerns: the side effects of the treatments that he has inflicted on himself and his helpless granddaughter are progressive and potentially lethal. Characters struggle to escape cliché (Angela’s mother “screeched” and “bleated” upon discovering the kidnapping, and Native American Hightower is “unsmiling” and taciturn), and the Fugitive-style plot is all too familiar. This oddly archaic novel never manages to engage. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-20
Scientific thriller from the author of New Earth (2013). Aging cellular-biology whiz Luke Abramson can't bear to watch his young granddaughter, Angie, die from an aggressive, untreatable brain tumor. His research indicates that if telomerase production is suppressed—thereby causing cells to die faster than normal—cancer cells should perish even more quickly than healthy cells. But nobody will sanction this potentially hazardous experiment, and even his own daughter won't agree to it, so he kidnaps the girl from her hospital bed in Boston, intending to treat her at a facility in Oregon. He persuades Angie's physician, Tamara Minteer, to go along, but Angie's distraught parents call in the FBI. Duplicitous billionaire Quenton Fisk, having backed Luke's research, offers a place for Luke, Tamara and Angie to hide while the treatment proceeds, since he'll own the results. Luke, meanwhile, too old and creaky to be dodging the FBI with a granddaughter in tow, boosts his own telomerase production, hoping to make himself younger, as his trials on mice have shown. Angie's cancer does shrink, but she develops progeria, or premature aging, as a side effect of telomerase suppression. As Luke grows younger and the FBI closes in, the White House gets wind of the case and reasons that if cancers can be cured and oldsters made youthful, the economy would collapse. These are lightweight ideas and formulaic doings carried out by cardboard characters in an improbable 1950s-style plot. Bova is usually good company, but this unabashed potboiler barely reaches tepid.
From the Publisher

“Plausible twenty-first-century medical research, the bond between a grandfather and his granddaughter, and political power all serve to make this book a must-read for those who enjoyed The Fugitive. A combination of thriller, adventure, and drama will enthrall.” —Booklist, starred review

“Bova proves himself equal to the task of showing how adversity can temper character in unforeseen ways.” —The New York Times

“Bova gets better and better, combining plausible science with increasingly complex fiction.” —Daily News (Los Angeles)

“[Bova's] excellence at combining hard science with believable characters and an attention-grabbing plot makes him one of the genre's most accessible and entertaining storytellers.” —Library Journal

Library Journal
03/15/2014
Cellular biologist Luke Abramson has been making important strides toward extending life spans and eradicating disease. The work is still in the early animal-testing phases. But when his beloved granddaughter, Angela, is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Luke begs for a chance to try to cure her. Refused on every front, he kidnaps Angela and convinces her doctor to help him get the girl to a private clinic where he can initiate the treatment. VERDICT Having the six-time Hugo Award-winning Bova's name on the cover ensures attention from sf fans for this biothriller. Most of the plot is the fast-paced action of Luke on the run, and while it does boil over into conspiracy-theory territory at times, Bova (Titan; New Earth) can be counted on to get the science right. The wish-fulfillment aspect for the octogenarian author seems a trifle obvious as the 78-year-old Luke is a babe magnet both before and after he uses his own antiaging cure.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765332936
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
04/15/2014
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Transhuman


By Ben Bova

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2014 Ben Bova
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3293-6



CHAPTER 1

University Hospital, Boston


It ought to be raining, thought Luke Abramson. It ought to be gray and miserable, with a lousy cold rain pelting down.

Instead, the hospital room was bright, with mid-December sunshine slanting through the windows. In the bed lay eight-year-old Angela, Luke's granddaughter, frail and wasting, her eyes closed, her thinned blond hair spread across the pillow. Angela's parents, Luke's only daughter and his son-in-law, stood on the other side of the bed, together with Angela's attending physician. Luke stood alone.

He'd been playing tennis in the university's indoor court when the phone call from the hospital came. Or, rather, doggedly going through the motions of playing tennis. Nearly seventy-five, even doubles was getting beyond him. Although the younger men tried to take it easy on him, more than once Luke had gloomily suggested they start playing triples.

And then came the phone call. Angie was terminal. He had rushed to the hospital, bundling his bulky parka over his tennis shorts and T-shirt.

"Then there's nothing ...?" Luke's daughter, Lenore, couldn't finish the sentence. Her voice choked in sobs.

Norrie, Luke called to her silently, don't cry. I'll help you. I can cure Angie, I know I can. But he couldn't speak the words aloud. He watched Lenore sobbing quietly, her heart breaking.

And Luke remembered all the other times when his daughter had come to him in tears, her deep brown eyes brimming, her dear little form racked with sobs. I'll fix it, Norrie, he had always told her. I'll make it all better for you. Even when his wife died after all those painful years of battling cancer, Lenore came to her father for comfort, for protection against the terrible wrongs that life had thrown at them.

Now Lenore stood with her husband, who wrapped an arm protectively around her slim, trembling shoulders. Del towered over little Lenore, a tall, athletic figure standing firmly beside his diminutive, grief-stricken wife. He's being strong for her, Luke knew. But he could see the agony, the bitterness in his clenched jaw and bleak eyes.

The physician, Dr. Tamara Minteer, replied in a barely audible whisper, "We can make her as comfortable as possible. I'll contact Hospice and —"

"It's all right." Angela's tiny voice cut the doctor short. She had opened her eyes and was trying to smile. "It doesn't hurt. Not at all."

Lenore and Del leaned down over their daughter's prostrate body, both of them in tears. Dr. Minteer looked as if she wanted to cry, too, but she held herself stiffly erect and looked straight at Luke, standing on the other side of the bed.

I can cure her, Luke told her. He didn't have to say it aloud. He knew Minteer understood what was in his mind. She knew it. And she rejected the idea.

* * *

Glioblastoma multiforme is a particularly pernicious form of brain cancer. Stubbornly resistant to radiation and chemotherapy, it usually kills its victims in a matter of months. It rarely strikes children, but eight-year-old Angela Villanueva was one of those rare cases.

Luke Abramson was a cellular biologist at the end of his career. Approaching seventy-five, he had been under pressure for some years from the university's management to accept retirement gracefully and go away. Professor Abramson was well liked by his students and practically adored by his small laboratory staff, but his associates on the university's faculty found him cantankerous, stubborn, frequently scornful of his colleagues, and totally unwilling to go in any direction but his own. His retirement would be a blessing, they thought.

Cancer had been the curse of Luke's family. Both his parents had been cut down by cancers, his father's of the lungs and his mother's of the ovaries. His wife, good-natured and health conscious, had succumbed to bladder cancer despite a lifetime of carefully watching her diet and faithfully exercising to keep her weight down.

It was if some invisible supernatural monster haunted his family, Luke thought. An implacable enemy that took his loved ones from him, year after year.

Luke had anxiously watched over his only daughter, and was thankful to a deity he really didn't believe in when Lenore grew up cancer-free. But deep in his consciousness he knew that this was no victory. Cancer was out there, waiting to strike.

It devastated him when it struck, not his daughter, but her child, Angela. Glioblastoma multiforme. Inoperable brain cancer. Little Angie would be dead in six months or less. Unless Luke could prevent it.

* * *

Leaving angela with her grieving parents, Luke followed Dr. Minteer as she strode determinedly down the busy hospital corridor. The hallway bustled with people hurrying to and fro; it seemed to Luke more crowded than Grand Central Station.

He was puffing. First tennis and now a freaking foot race, he thought. We must look comical: a lean, bent old man with bad knees and what was left of his hair shaved down to a whitish fuzz, chasing after a slim, dark-haired oncologist. God, look at her go. Sleek and lithe as a prowling cheetah.

"Hey, Doc, slow up," he gasped.

Tamara Minteer stopped altogether and turned to face him. Slightly taller than Luke, she wasn't exactly beautiful, he thought: Her nose was a trifle too sharp, her lips on the thin side. But she was elegant. That was the word for her: elegant. She moved like a cat, supple and graceful. Almond-shaped green eyes set above high cheekbones. Glossy raven-black shoulder-length hair. At the moment, though, her lean, taut face was set grimly, her brilliant emerald eyes snapping.

"I know what you're going to say, Professor, and —"

"Luke," he wheezed. "My name is Luke."

"It's no good, Professor," Minteer continued, her voice low, throaty. "You can't wave a magic wand and cure your granddaughter."

Don't lose your freaking temper, Luke commanded himself. You need her. Don't turn her off.

He sucked in a breath. "It's not a magic wand and you know it. It's manipulating the telomeres, and I've got solid experimental evidence for its efficacy."

"In lab mice." Minteer resumed walking along the corridor, but at a slower pace.

"And chimps," Luke said, hurrying to keep up with her.

That stopped her. Minteer looked surprised. "I hadn't heard about chimpanzee experiments."

"One chimp. NIH won't let us have any more, something about the mother-loving animal rights activists. As if we were hurting them."

"You got positive results in a chimpanzee?"

Luke waggled a hand. "Sort of. We haven't published yet."

Minteer shook her head and started along the corridor once again. "I can't let you use your granddaughter as a guinea pig."

"She's going to die, for God's sake!" Luke barked. Several people in the corridor turned to stare at him.

Minteer kept walking, her soft-soled shoes squeaking on the tiled floor. She reached her office door and yanked it open, Luke two steps behind her.

He followed her into the office and closed the door tightly, then leaned against it, puffing. "You ought to be in the Olympics, Doc," he said, breathless.

"And you should be retired," Minteer snapped as she headed for her desk, her body as rigid as a steel bar.

It was a small office, windowless, efficiently lit by glareless light panels in the ceiling. Everything in its place, except for a bilious green spider plant that had overflowed its pot and spread halfway across the bookcase in one corner of the room.

"Let me try to save her," Luke pleaded. "She's my only grandchild, for God's sake."

"It's a totally unproven therapy. How can I let you experiment on an eight-year-old child?"

"So you're going to let her die? Is that what you call practicing medicine?"

"Don't tell me what I should be doing," Minteer snapped.

"Somebody's got to!"

Glaring at him, she said, "You know I can't approve it."

"Yes you could."

"I don't have the authority."

"But you could recommend it."

"How can I recommend a therapy I don't believe in?"

"What freaking difference does it make? Angie's going to die unless you let me help her!"

"You can't help her. We've tried targeted bacterial vectors and immunotherapy. Nothing's worked. She's going to die, whatever you do."

"And you'll be killing her mother, too. This'll kill Lenore."

That hit home. He could see it in her face.

"I'm no good at begging," Luke said, hating the whine in his voice. "But please. For God's sake, please!"

Her rigid stance softened a little. She looked away from him, then slowly sank into her swivel chair. Luke remained standing in front of the desk.

"Recommend it to the executive committee," he urged again. "Please. It's Angie's only chance."

Minteer locked her eyes on Luke's. For an eternally long moment she said nothing, just stared at him. At last she nodded slowly and said, "I can't recommend your therapy, Professor. It's just a lab experiment."

Before he could protest, she added, "But I can ask the committee to hear you out."

"Thanks! Thanks a lot," said Luke. Then he abruptly turned and left Dr. Minteer's office. He desperately needed to find the nearest men's room.

CHAPTER 2

Executive Committee Meeting


This is a waste of time, Luke realized.

It had taken two days for the executive committee to agree to hear him out. Two days taken from Angela's lifetime. Luke watched them as they came into the conference room and took their seats along the table. They've already made up their minds. He could see it in their faces. They resent being here. They won't listen to anything I say.

Twelve men and women, like a jury. Senior members of the hospital staff and the university faculty. They were all younger than Luke; four of them had been students of his, at one time. But they had stopped being active research scientists years ago. They were administrators now, paper shufflers, decision makers — who had already made their decision.

All right, he told himself. You've got to change their stupid hidebound minds. Stay cool. Don't get angry with them. Don't let them see what you really think of them.

He went through his presentation carefully, using his best lecture manners. No jokes, of course. Totally serious. Life or death. His slides flicked across the screen at the head of the room. His words bounced off the walls. The committee members shifted in their chairs, waiting for the end.

At last Luke showed his final slide. "As you can see," he said, working his laser pointer down the list of test results, "by activating the controlling gene set we increase the body's production of telomeres, which rejuvenates the subjects and alleviates the symptoms of aging."

He thumbed the button on his remote that turned off the projector and turned on the ceiling lights.

Luke's legs ached, and he desperately wanted to urinate, but he remained standing at the front of the conference room. The committee members glanced back and forth at each other. No one spoke.

Finally, one of his former students, now head of the university's grant committee, cleared his throat noisily. "Luke, your work with telomerase is very interesting, but I don't see how it could possibly apply to Angela Villanueva's case."

A better reaction than he had expected. Luke made a smile as he replied, "Glioblastoma multiforme is a form of cancer."

"A very dangerous form," said one of the women, halfway along the table. She was plump and gray-haired, wearing a stylish slate gray dress and a pearl choker beneath her double chin.

Nodding, Luke went on. "Cancer cells multiply wildly, they don't stop proliferating. But if we can inhibit their production of telomerase, we can kill them."

"Wait a minute, back up a bit," said the committee's chairman, Odom Wexler, a small, roundish black money manager with a fringe of silvery beard and wire-rimmed tinted eyeglasses. Frowning puzzledly, he asked, "Inhibiting their telomerase will kill the cancer cells? How's that work?"

Christ, Luke snarled silently, didn't you listen to anything I told you?

Patiently, he explained. "All normal cells reproduce a certain number of times, then they stop reproducing."

"The Hayflick Limit. I understand that."

"Cancer cells don't have a Hayflick Limit. They just go on reproducing, making more of themselves, building tumors that just grow and grow."

"Unless we intervene with radiation or chemotherapy," said the dean of the psychiatry department, a handsome man dressed in a navy blue three-piece suit. He had a leonine mane of silvery hair and a smile that had reassured countless wealthy wives.

"There's also surgery," added the surgeon seated down at the foot of the conference table.

"Surgery, of course," the psychiatrist muttered.

"All of those interventions have serious side effects," Luke said. "In Angela's case, surgery is impossible, and both radiation and chemo have been ineffective."

"And your intervention doesn't have serious side effects?"

Ignoring the snide tone of the question, Luke continued explaining. "Telomeres control the cells' reproduction rate. Each time a cell reproduces, the telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes shrink a little."

"Telomeres are sort of like aglets at the end of a shoelace, aren't they?" asked a balding man seated across the table from the chairman. He was a financial guy, a glorified accountant, neither a physician nor a scientist.

"Like aglets, right," said Luke. "Telomeres protect the ends of the chromosome strings, keep them from unraveling. But they shrink every time the cell reproduces."

"And when they get small enough the cell stops reproducing," said one of Luke's former students. "Everybody knows that."

You always were a smug little prick, Luke said to himself. Aloud, he replied, "And when your cells stop reproducing, you begin to get the symptoms of aging. Your skin wrinkles. Your eyesight fades. Your muscles weaken. When enough of your cells stop reproducing, you die."

His former student, almost smirking, said, "Telomeres were a hot subject for a while, back in the nineties. The cure for aging, they thought."

"They were right," Luke snapped.

"Inject telomerase into the body," the younger man continued, "and you regrow the cells' telomeres. The fountain of youth."

"It works," Luke insisted.

"In mice."

"It works on genes that mice and human beings have in common. It will work on humans. I'm sure of it!"

Before the back-and-forth could grow into a really bitter argument, Chairman Wexler interrupted. "But what's all this got to do with Angela Villanueva's case?"

"As I explained before," Luke said, trying to hold on to his temper, "by inhibiting her telomerase production we can kill the cancer cells."

"But what about the other cells of her body?" asked the gray-haired woman.

"We'll be inhibiting their telomerase production, too, of course. But the cancer cells will die long before her somatic cells become endangered."

"How do you know that?"

"I showed you my experimental evidence —"

"But that's with lab mice!" said one of the younger men. "You can't expect us to approve a human trial with nothing more than mouse experiments to go on. The FDA would shut us down in two seconds flat!"

Luke stared at him. He wasn't much more than forty, and he'd made his way through the political jungles of academia by smilingly agreeing with almost everyone but then going ahead ruthlessly with his own ideas. He never stuck his neck out, though. He always had underlings do his dirty work, and he had no compunctions about chopping their heads off when he had to.

"If you told the FDA that you approved the therapy and wanted to do a clinical test —"

"No, no, no," said Wexler, wagging his bearded head back and forth. "Luke, you know as well as I do that it takes years to get FDA approval for any new procedure. Then there's the state medical board and at least three other federal agencies to get through."

"There's an eight-year-old girl dying!"

"That's regrettable, but we can't put this hospital in jeopardy by going ahead with an unapproved therapy."

Luke exploded. "Then you pea-brained idiots might just as well put a gun to my granddaughter's head and blow her freaking brains out!"

He strode angrily down the length of the table, past the stunned committee members, and stormed out of the room.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Transhuman by Ben Bova. Copyright © 2014 Ben Bova. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author


BEN BOVA is a six-time winner of the Hugo Award, a former editor of Analog, former editorial director of Omni, and a past president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America. Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, most recently Power Play, Farside, and New Earth. He lives in Florida.

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Transhuman 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pros: Some science here -- telomerase as an anti-aging med. Effect of life extension on society. Cons: This is a male senior citizen's dream -- to have young and old women alike chasing after the 75 yr. old protagonist. I'd prefer to see the author base an entire novel on the effect of life extension on society. It's been done already but it can use another redo as long as it's creative.